Mindfulness is quickly following yoga in becoming a billion-dollar industry. It’s no surprise, then, that the popularity of mindfulness meditation – one way to practice mindfulness – is also growing among CEOs and senior executives. Why are business leaders embracing mindfulness meditation rather than, say, massage or ping-pong? Because there’s something to meditation that appears to benefit CEOs more than recreation or relaxation do alone.
As CEO of the TLEX Institute, Johann Berlin specializes in bringing mindfulness training to CEOs and corporate teams. He says he’s seeing a growing interest among leaders in meditation as a way to build leadership skills – and achieve business goals. “Most of our new clients … are not sold by mindfulness as a novelty. They want to see how these approaches … are truly beneficial to existing priorities like retention, talent advancement, innovation.” For example, one of Berlin’s clients, a Fortune 25 company, has integrated mindfulness techniques into its high potentials program with the goal of creating agile and flexible mindsets as a foundation for leadership.
The research on mindfulness suggests that meditation sharpens skills like attention, memory, and emotional intelligence. I spoke with a number of executives about their experiences and saw again and again how their observations about meditation in the workplace connected back to the findings of academic research.
1. Mindfulness Builds Resilience.
Multiple research studies including studies I’ve conducted with my colleagues at Stanford University (see my book The Happiness Track for details) have shown that meditation has the potential to decrease anxiety, thereby potentially boosting resilience and performance under stress. That’s certainly been true for Alak Vasa, founder of Elements Truffles, who started meditating as a trader at Goldman Sachs and ITG. She claims meditation helped her keep fear and panic at bay, even under duress. “There was this one instance where the market tanked and there was panic on the desk. The trading desk was an organized riot. Thanks to my meditation practice, I was able to keep my composure and propose solutions to reduce the impact of the market crash.”
2. Mindfulness Boosts Emotional Intelligence.
Brain-imaging research suggests that meditation can help strengthen your ability to regulate your emotions.
Archana Patchirajan, the successful serial entrepreneur and CEO and Founder of Sattva, shared that in her early years as a leader, she wanted things to happen in her way and on her timeline. “I didn’t tend to understand what my team was going through. I would just get angry if they did not perform according to my expectations. ” Given research that shows anger’s impact on cardiovascular health, it is critical that leaders be able to manage their
Dr. James Doty, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University’s School of Medicine and author of New York Times bestseller Into the Magic Shop, also values meditation for its ability to cultivate emotional intelligence. A colleague had developed a cutting-edge medical device, but the company he had started to develop and sell the device was on the rocks. Doty, an early investor, became the CEO. At a meeting with vital – but disgruntled – stakeholders, he faced an angry, unreasonable investor. He credits his mindfulness practice with helping him respond with empathy: “I paused and slowly took a few breaths… This led me to actually listen and understand not only his
3. Mindfulness Enhances Creativity.
Research on creativity suggests that we come up with our greatest insights and biggest breakthroughs when we are in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind. That is when we have “eureka” moments. This is likely because meditation encourages divergent thinking (i.e. coming up with the greatest number of possible solutions to a problem), a key component of creativity.
Charly Kleissner credits meditation with helping him come up with new ideas and ventures that would otherwise not have occurred to him. “I co-founded the 100% IMPACT Network because of my meditation practice.”
4. Mindfulness Improves Your Relationships.
While stress narrows your perspective and that of your
Chirag Patel, CEO of Amneal Pharmaceuticals and Ernst & Young 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year, credits meditation with helping him feel more connected to his clients. “In a
5. Mindfulness Helps You Focus.
Research has shown that our minds have a tendency to
Importantly, meditation is not just “one more thing to do.” If you’re thinking that you have enough on your plate and don’t need yet another thing, consider this advice that Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post and author of Thrive and The Sleep Revolution, shared with me. “Although I’ve known its benefits since my teens, finding time for meditation was always a challenge because I was under the impression that I had to ‘do’ meditation. And I didn’t have time for another burdensome thing to ‘do.’ Fortunately, a friend pointed out one day that we don’t ‘do’ meditation; meditation ‘does’ us. That opened the door for me. The only thing to ‘do’ in meditation is nothing.”
But as both research and experience show, doing nothing can have real results.
Want to learn more about why meditation and happiness are the